Homicides in El Salvador Reach Pre-Gang Truce Levels

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Recent figures released by El Salvador’s Forensic Institute show homicide rates are back to the same levels as before a gang truce was declared, but questions remain as to whether the upward trend will continue or the gangs will find it in their best interests to minimize the violence.

El Salvador’s Forensic Institute (IML) has reported 1,857 homicides in the first six months of 2014, a 77 percent increase from the same period last year. The average between January and June was 10.3 murders a day, reported El MundoIn June there were 378 homicides — compared to 185 in the same month last year — which amounts to a daily average of 12.6.  

On a regional level, San Salvador (where the capital is situated) was the province with the greatest number of homicides, followed by Usulutan in eastern El Salvador.

InSight Crime Analysis

After El Salvador’s most powerful gangs — the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) and Barrio 18 — declared a truce in March 2012, the number of murders in El Salvador dropped from an average of between 12 and 14 homicides a day to around five.

However, by the end of 2013, the murder rate had begun to increase steadily and consistently as the truce unraveled and the political will to support it evaporated.  It had become all but inevitable it would at some point reach pre-truce levels. The breaching of this milestone is unlikely to have any great impact on the current situation.  Despite the recent efforts of gang leaders, the truce has no institutional support and is considered dead by all but its most diehard supporters.

SEE ALSO: El Salvador Gang Truce: Positives and Negatives

However, it is less clear whether it is in the gangs’ interests to see a return to pre-truce levels of violence. Many observers have speculated the truce benefitted the gangs’ business operations as the lower violence has meant less security forces attention and more space to operate. There have been numerous reports they used the peace to ramp up extortion operations and increase their role in the drug trade. If this is true, and peace time has proven profitable for the gangs, then the question remains; why go back to war?    

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